Chapter 16 : Chapter Sixteen
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There was no clock in the room and when Hannah was woken in the darkness by a flailing arm and a strangled scream, she could only guess at the time. The blue flames had faded into tiny, effervescent glows the size of Knuts above their heads and beside her, Neville’s hand jerked again, his fist clenched around empty air, and she grappled through the blackness to find her wand on the arm of the sofa. The flames burst into life again and she kicked off the blanket, shaking the sleeping, restless man beside her awake.
It took him a second to get his bearings as he jolted into the bluish light of the early hours of the morning. Her hand still clasped his shoulder, shaking under her touch, and with panicked wide eyes, he caught her gaze. He whimpered, his mouth ajar and brow creased, saying nothing as he leant forward, his breath still coming in gasps that shook the room.
She had grown accustomed to dealing with this kind of thing over the last year or so but in the moment, as her arms tightened around him, she could think of nothing to say. The words – those nonsense words that everyone says – wouldn’t come as she wanted them to. Her eyes stung too as he cried, softer now, into the crook of her neck and she closed them tightly, holding him even closer to him. She had seen Ernie and Justin and her father and so many others on this edge but none of them had made her feel like this: helpless.
There was no telling how long they stayed there, how long it took until he was calm enough to lean back from her, wiping his sleeve across his face as he whispered, “Sorry,” a dozen times in a hushed and broken voice. He ran his hands back through his hair, slightly too long and curling around his ears.
“Don’t be silly.” She knew her own voice was teetering on the edge but she swallowed back the ache in her throat and placed a comforting hand on his leg. Her own naivety bit at her as he sat there, eyes red and tears mixed with sweat across his pale cheeks; she had never once expected him to break. She had been selfish, more so than she had ever been before. “Neville.” She tugged on his elbow so that he turned to face her, and she edged towards him to close the inch or so between them. Her lips brushed against his shoulder, her thumb stroking the curve of his arm.
“Lying doesn’t help anyone.” She glanced up at him, his body still trembling, and he shook his head in quiet resignation. She drifted her free hand up and back through his hair, damp and sticky through her fingers. It was difficult to take her eyes from him; the childlike despair that he had awoken with was now so obvious in every feature. He was no different to the rest of them, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise. “We all have them.”
Bad dreams; not a night went by without flashing light, empty eyes staring out against black stone, the scream of death’s silence reverberating in the dark. He still had the scars of a year’s agony etched across his face and she worked her hands across each mark, each ridge, each bruise that was long faded yet she could still see.
“I killed people.” It was choked out, breaking in the still air, but she didn’t flinch. She had seen him do it. She had watched them falling, watched them lose their soul at the hands of this boy and she did not want her heart to soar the way it did when she thought about it. “I know I didn’t mean to or want to and I know they probably deserved it but –”
He trailed off and Hannah wondered if he was seeing the same thing she was: a flash of orange and a body tumbling, the crash of a wall and death’s last groan, the swing of a sword, the scream of a child, silence.
“It doesn’t stop it hurting,” she whispered, her hand cupping his face. He glanced at her briefly, the solemnity between them heaving in the eerie light.
Had she killed? She had asked herself the question so many times and still she could not answer it. She did not want her name on a prize. She did not want to be praised for any of it.
“I don’t think so.” She stared at his shoulder, the bend of his arm, the flicker of his shadow. “God I don’t know but I hurt them.”
“It felt almost right,” he said, his voice so quiet that she strained to hear it even in the emptiness of the library, “but you knew it would hurt you ten times more the next day.”
The words she wanted to impress on him wouldn’t come. Everything hurt. Nothing lasted. She had convinced herself of that for so many months that it was easy to slip back into it now, except for one thing. His hands in hers. Her heart pulling against her ribcage. At the moment, at that very second, it was the only thing she knew for certain: her life, as she knew it now, would be nothing if it weren’t for him.
She would be living in the dingy room in a dingy pub with nobody who really understood to help her through. She would still feel the hurt in every second, still feel the anger and the grief and the hate. She might not even remember what it felt like to love and to be loved.
“Does it matter anymore?” she asked softly, not entirely sure even as she spoke whether it was the right thing to say. “We can’t change anything.” He twisted so that her hand was free of his arm and took it in one of his. The sweat was drying on his forehead, tear tracks stained against his cheeks, and when he smiled, there was something so genuine about it that she knew what the answer would be without him even opening his mouth.
His thumb trailed softly against the back of her hand and the tension in his body disappeared as the world slipped over his tongue. Outside, it was still pitch black, the only noise the clatter of flowering branches against a window a little further down the house. Hannah glanced out over the countryside that she couldn’t see: the rise of the hills and the slope of the garden, the stars blotted out by sweeping grey clouds.
“Get some sleep,” she said softly, looking back to Neville whose hand was still tightly held in hers. His eyes were drooping already, his lips pressed tightly together as he fought a yawn. Hannah flicked her wand at the small balls of light which melted away into the air, hesitating for a moment before leaning across and pressing a gentle kiss against his cheek. He said nothing but even in the darkness, she could see him smile.
They said nothing of the night when they woke up. The sun had long broken, the grass outside rippling under the caress of the morning breeze, and somewhere down the corridor, there was a low murmur of chatter. “Do you want some breakfast?” Neville asked, stretching his arms out in front of him and closing his eyes tightly. Hannah checked the clock that hung lopsidedly on the wall behind them and nodded. There were still a couple of hours until visiting at the hospital and her stomach was shifting uncomfortably from the lack of substantial meal over the past twenty-four hours.
“I’ll nip in the shower first,” she said, standing up and patting down her hair. Her limbs had stiffened from the awkward sleeping position and she hated the feeling of yesterday’s clothes on her body, creased from the night. Jumping over the back of the seat, she hurried out of the room and upstairs, past the dining room where the conversation she had heard earlier was emanating from.
Daphne wasn’t in when she got to their room and a part of her felt disappointed as she took a towel and some new clothes from her chest of drawers. There seemed to be so much to say now, the thrill of each kiss still stinging her lips. Her father, too; Daphne would have no idea of the turn in Hannah’s fortune. She understood, now, the feeling that Daphne had always spoken of, the sense of belonging and belief and comfort. As wonderful as the new friendships had been, the past few days had been more satisfying than the weeks that had preceded them.
There was still no sign of her roommate when Hannah stepped out of the bathroom and although she contemplated waiting, the growl of her stomach led her back downstairs. There were more people milling about in the corridors now, a few giving small greetings or smiles to her as she wound her way through the crowd. There were new faces too, easy to distinguish from their empty stares and silence. A pang of sorrow shot through her. It was easy to forget what she had once been like. She was lucky. She had to remember that.
“What time’s visiting again?” Neville asked when she stepped back into the library. He had his back to her as he piled another set of books onto a shelf, siphoning off the dust with the tip of his wand. She grabbed a slice of toast off the plate he had placed on the table and poured the tea into a small china cup.
“Eleven til twelve and four til five,” she said, lifting the mug to her lips. There was a short pause before she added, “Will you come with me?” The thought of dealing with it on her own made her feel sick. She knew that her father would be okay, eventually, but looking at the ghost of who he was lying on that bed had made her feel so fragile, so lonely, that for the moment, facing it by herself seemed an impossible task.
“Of course,” he said without turning around. She could see him chewing on his bottom lip as he pondered one of the texts in his hands and he slid it neatly into place before looking over his shoulder. “I told Ab that you’ll pop by later and let him know what you’re doing.”
“Ta,” she murmured through a mouthful of toast. She hadn’t even given a thought to what she had left behind since Neville had swept her away from Hogsmeade less than twenty-four hours ago and a pang of guilt shot through her. “I’ll go after the hospital.”
“I think he’s a bit worried about you,” he said after a while, the smirk yanking on his lips as he turned towards her. “Never seen him so relieved as when I told him what had happened.” He paused again. “He thinks really highly of you, you know?”
“I know,” she replied softly, putting down her cup and picking up a pile of books. She shuffled over to the next set of shelving along from Neville, setting the stack down again. “First time I set foot in that pub was for the DA meeting,” she said, flicking through the book on the top of the pile. “Hated it, vowed never to set foot in there again. Funny how times change.”
She slipped the book into place on the shelf, positioning it carefully so it wouldn’t tip over. The spine was creased and the title had long since faded into the dark binding; would anyone ever pick it up? There were hundreds of texts in this house, thousands maybe, but how much use would they be? She couldn’t remember the last time she had lifted a book to read for pleasure, could not recall a favourite. Her love of reading had died with the start of the war. It turned out that escapism was useless when she needed it the most.
“Have you given much thought to what you’re going to do,” Neville said, startling out of her daydream, “after all this, you know?” Hannah placed the next book on the shelf and turned to face him, her back leaning against the edge of the cabinet.
“You trying to get rid of me?”
“Not at all,” he said, shaking his head as he flicked his wand at a loose page of the book in his hand, the paper fixing itself back into place. He squeezed the thin book into the space at the end of the shelf and smiled. “Just wondering, you know. You always sound so happy when you talk about the pub.”
“It’s good fun,” she admitted, leaning forward to pick up her cup of tea from the table, “but it’s not much of a career, is it?” She laughed but stopped when Neville didn’t join in. He was still smiling, but it was different. It was as though he knew something that she didn’t, laughing at a joke only he could hear. “What?”
“Nothing,” he said but she raised her eyebrows, putting the mug on the shelf and crossing her arms. “Well, it’s just…Ab isn’t exactly a spring chicken, is he? And he’s not got anyone to leave that place to…”
“Are you saying I should aspire to being the landlady of the dirtiest public house in Britain?” she challenged, her face sombre until Neville started spluttering an explanation and a laugh escaped her. “Listen, I’ve got no plans to inherit anything off anyone for a long, long time. I’m going to concentrate on me and my dad and getting him better.”
She turned back to the books, leafing through for any loose papers or writing, before glancing sideways to where Neville was staring out of the window. She put the book in its place and stepped towards him, looping her arm through his.
“Thanks for caring,” she said softly, resting her head against his arm. He glanced down, the ghost of a smile against his lips, and he shook his head.
A/N: Eep, long time, no update but uni is finished and I have three months off in which I hope to finish this! I hope you enjoyed!
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